Prior to the 2017 draft, right winger Owen Tippett was one of the most divisive prospects in the pool. For some scouts, his play away from the puck was too much of a turn-off. They saw him as a one-dimensional scorer and even questioned if he could be an NHLer.
Florida, clearly, disagreed with that sentiment. The Panthers selected Tippett 10th overall and have very high expectations for the Mississauga Steelheads star, signing him to his entry-level contract on Wednesday.
“I’m thrilled to sign Owen to his first NHL contract,” said GM Dale Tallon. “Owen is a natural goal scorer with a bright future and he already possesses NHL-ready size and speed. We're looking forward to watching him compete for a spot on our NHL roster at training camp this fall.”
You heard Tallon: this fall. Every season, a handful of players go straight from the bright lights of the draft to the NHL. Usually, it’s the top two or three selections, but there’s almost always one later pick that makes a statement. Ryan O’Reilly did it from the second round back in 2009, while Jakob Chychrun (16th overall) pulled the trick in Arizona this past season.
Could Tippett be that player in 2017? I believe he can.
Because here’s the thing: Tippett has some incredible physical skills that will make him dangerous right away. The kid has great speed, great hands and a solid frame already. For every scout that didn’t like him before the draft, there was another who was much more receptive. One talent evaluator (who did not work for Florida) told me that NHL teams can teach a kid to play defense; they can’t teach what Tippett brings to the table in his innate abilities.
And if we’re going to speculate about Tippett’s place in the Panthers lineup, he won’t have to be Patrice Bergeron in order to help out. Florida already has several good two-way centers in Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck up front and the Panthers’ winger situation is very much in flux. Evgeny Dadonov and Henrik Haapala might be top-sixers, but in terms of NHLers they are still unknown quantities (I know Dadonov played for Florida in the past, but he certainly didn’t prove himself long-term).
While Tippett is also an unknown quantity at the pro level, it’s hard not to watch highlights of his goals from the past year without seeing the potential he brings.
If Tippett works out in the coming years, Florida made a deft pick. If Tippett contributes right away, then it’s a huge victory and speaks to the scouting staff’s willingness to bet on the positives over the negatives.
Which reminds me of something I looked back on once the dust settled on the 2017 draft. There were certain players who were not selected that caught my attention because they had been ranked amongst the top-100 by several different lists, including ours. But I also recalled talking to one scout about a player, whom the talent hawk described as a ‘J.A.G.,’ or as he further explained, “Just A Guy.” That is to say, the prospect was a good junior player, but did not have any particular skills that made him stand out.
With some kids, they have size on their side. Others have blazing speed, others have brilliant hockey IQ. They all may have faults, but teams are willing to work with those faults in order to mine the other qualities.
In Tippett, we know the powerful positives and we know the areas that need work. So do the Panthers, and it seems like they want to put those positives to the test right away.